Propane gas is a common fuel source for lake houses so don’t be concerned if the lake house you want to purchase has propane gas service. The 2015 National Propane Gas Association Report* found that propane gas is used in 7.8 million US homes for household heating. States with the highest residential use of propane include Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and Michigan. Coincidentally, these four states have many lakes and a significant number of lake shore real estate properties so finding propane service in those areas is not surprising. Regardless of where your lake house is located, here are things you should know about propane gas and inspection questions you should ask if you have never used propane gas for heating before. Feel free to save this article to reference later! Being one of our “Deep Dive” articles, it’s jam-packed with information and details that can be helped in the home purchase process and beyond.
Let’s dive in!
Is propane gas different from natural gas?
Yes, it is. Propane gas is efficient and delivers twice the BTUs per hour that natural gas provides. It is a clean fuel and is transported via truck as a liquid and is delivered to your home. Propane is stored in an onsite tank (many tanks sizes are available). Some tanks are buried but most tanks sit in the yard close to the house and are easy to spot. The propane gas stored in these tanks is the same propane that fuels popular gas-burning outdoor grills. Propane gas is a very dependable energy source. The biggest issue with using propane gas is monitoring the amount of gas you have on hand.
Natural gas is the service found in urban homes. It is provided as a utility and is directly connected to the house like electricity. No tanks or deliveries are needed with natural gas. Household natural gas does differ from propane gas and is composed of multiple gases including propane, butane, ethane, and methane. The US Census Bureau reports that 48% of homes use natural gas.
Questions should you ask during a Home Purchase Inspection using propane gas:
- Who owns the tank? It is not uncommon for tanks to be leased as part of the gas delivery service, but some homeowners do own their tank. If the tank is leased and you want to change gas vendors, you will have to swap out the tank. While rental tanks tie you to a particular vendor, the company is usually responsible for tank repairs.
- How big is the tank? Propane tank capacities range in size from 120 gallons to 1000+ gallons depending on the house square footage and the number of appliances using propane. The tank is typically sized to handle your estimated propane usage. A straightforward estimating tool for fuel usage is available from the propane vendor.
- Where is the tank? Tanks can be free-standing near the home or buried underground nearby. Buried tanks have unique issues. See extra questions below regarding buried tanks.
- What appliances currently in the home use propane gas? Examples include the stove, dryer, grill, power generator, hot water heater, fireplace logs, hot tub heater, furnace and more. If you add another gas fueled appliance you must re-calculate your propane needs.
- How many times a year is the tank currently refilled? Expect multiple propane deliveries throughout the year depending on usage, the weather conditions, and the size of the tank.
- When was the tank last serviced? If the tank is owned, ask the seller for maintenance records on the tank so you understand its condition. If the tank is leased, you will need to contact the leasing company to change the service into your name. The service changeover is also the time to re-calculate your propane usage estimate so you are confident that the tank will not run dry.
Extra Inspection questions for buried propane tanks:
- Where is the tank buried? Communities typically have tank placement requirements. Be sure the tank location complies with local rules. Tanks should not be in a location where vehicles are driving over them.
- Where is the tank filled and is the gauge easy to read? You will need to know where the fill valve is located so you are able to check fuel levels.
- What is the tank’s capacity? Capacity is critical to know as you estimate your usage requirements.
- How old is the buried tank? Buried tanks are designed to last about 30 to 40 years. Corrosion and leakage are risks with older buried tanks. Replacing an old tank will cost thousands of dollars.
- Are the service records on the tank available (owned or leased)? Has it been inspected recently or ever? These are essential issues and could have mortgage and insurances consequences.
- Who owns the tank? There is a high likelihood that the homeowner owns an underground tank, but firms will also lease them. If you own the tank, maintenance is your responsibility.
It will be important to reach out to the propane vendor to either establish a re-order plan or initiate a change of vendor order. Several propane re-order options are offered by gas vendors. You may simply call and request an order of gas (on demand) but expect a 7-to-10-day delivery window. You can establish an ‘auto fill’ account where the gas vendor using a forecasting tool predicts your usage for automatic refills. Some propane vendors will also automatically fill your tank on a pre-determined time interval. Please note that the vendor relationship with a propane company is different from a natural gas utility. There is no service cutover event that triggers an account change. The new homeowner must take action.
One final propane tip is that propane gas is a commodity, and its cost will vary based on demand. Propane is priced and sold by the gallon. Propane gas prices** are prone to fluctuations which can sometimes be significant. Propane gas deliveries are paid in full at the time of delivery. Propane is generally less expensive in the summer months when demand is lower.
Hopefully, these Inspection questions and other propane tips are useful and will guide you through the inspection process. Your Realtor is another helpful resource for answering inspection questions. The Homeowner Disclosure Form may include the answers to some of the inspection issues but having a licensed Home Inspector confirm the answers is recommended.
Tell us your stories and experience about propane gas! We’d love to learn from you too.